On November 8, 2008 I will be moving to Uganda to work on the HEALS Hip Hop Therapy Project.
The purpose of the HEALS Hip Hop Therapy Project is to use the positive elements of Hip Hop music and culture, which children around the world embrace and identify with, as a form of therapy and as a tool for building self-esteem among war-affected children in Northern Uganda.
For the past 22 years, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has led a brutal war in the Northern part of Uganda in an attempt to overthrow the Government of Uganda. The primary victims of this war have been the Acholi people who have seen over 25, 000 of their children abducted and forced to serve as child soldiers and sex slaves.
A good friend of mine, Jolly Okot, was abducted nearly 20 years ago at the beginning of the war and was forced to serve as a child soldier for 2 years. When she escaped captivity and returned home, she found that one of the things that helped her get through her trauma was the ability to play, have fun, and just be a kid again.
This is why Play Therapy is such an important part of what her organization, Health Education Arts Literacy Sports (HEALS), does. The Play Therapy Program at HEALS provides a safe space for war-affected children to enjoy sports, games, drama, art, music, dance, and other after-school activities.
When Jolly told me that the kids in her program were interested in Hip Hop and requested that a Hip Hop dance class be added to their Play Therapy program, I wanted to help and created the HEALS Hip Hop Therapy Project.
While on a visit to Uganda, I met a local conscious Hip Hop artist named Abramz and decided to partner with him and his organization Breakdance Project Uganda! (BPU) which provides free breakdance lessons to anyone interested in learning. I wrote a proposal and received financial and material support from SN Brussels Airlines, American Airlines, Pulse Experiential, and the French Government to get the project started.
The launch of the project took place the week of November 25 to December 1, 2006. During this week, Abramz and teachers from BPU traveled to Northern Uganda to teach the kids about the different aspects of Hip Hop culture (rap, dance, art, etc.) and work with them on putting together a breakdance performance for their families and community.
The class and show were a big success and the project is still active today with over 50 participants. In the past two years, the children at HEALS have learned how to beatbox, breakdance, and create Hip-Hop beats using traditional instruments.
In March 2007, children in the HEALS Hip Hop Therapy Project had the opportunity to travel to capital city Kampala (most for the very first time) to participate in the “Hip Hop for Society Show.” One of the girls in the project told me how worried they were that the “city kids” would be better than them and then exclaimed with great pride and a huge smile “but we were the best!”
Based on such anecdotal evidence, it appears that the Hip Hop Therapy Project has had a positive influence on the children at HEALS by increasing their self-esteem and helping to connect them with the outside world after years of physical and social isolation due to the war. There is a need, however, to hear directly from the kids on how the project can continue to best meet their needs.
I plan to use the Fulbright/MTVu grant to conduct an assessment of the children’s psychosocial needs and available community resources to learn how the project can be expanded and improved.
It’s been an amazing experience working with these children and I look forward to continuing the work I started nearly two years ago and sharing it with you as I go along.